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Grigory Pasko on Russia’s Parole Process, Part 1

From the Editor: Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawyers have filed a petition with the Ingodinsky District Court of Chita on the conditional early release (that’s Russian for “parole”) of the ex-head of YUKOS. At a recent press conference in Moscow, lawyer Yuri Schmidt particularly underscored that every prisoner has the right to conditional early release, and that such a request does not seek pardon or amnesty. In the words of the defense, neither admission of guilt nor contrition are required of a prisoner for the submission of a petition on conditional early release. In the meantime, the chief of the administration of the Federal Service of Punishments for Chita Oblast, Yunus Amayev, commented that “Conditional early release has to be earned”. And he added: “…To be granted parole people need to work, to behave well, not to violate the rules…. There is no other way.” We asked our correspondent Grigory Pasko to tell us about how the procedure of conditional early release from Russian places of confinement usually takes place. Grigory replied that he had described this procedure in detail in one of his publications in the magazine «Nevolya». We decided that our readers would also find this article interesting, and offer it here in two installments. Read Part 2 here.

Conditional, very conditional…Part 1Grigory Pasko, journalistAfter the pronouncement of the verdict, one of my lawyers, Ivan Pavlov, said to me: “The most you’ll still have to sit [behind bars] is another year…” Of course, he had in mind UDO – [the Russian abbreviation for] conditional early release, inasmuch as by the moment of the decreeing of the latest – the second – verdict, I had already done half of the term established by the court.ussur072208.jpgUssuriysk strict-regime colony, 2002: the author and lawyer Ivan Pavlov discussing a petition on conditional early release (photo by Galina Morozova)I awaited the decree of the military collegium of the Supreme Court of the RF to my cassational appeal of the sentence in the SIZO [investigative isolator]. It followed after half a year: they left the verdict unchanged, and it entered into legal force. In all, it should be noted, four years of deprivation of liberty had been established. There couldn’t even be any talk of serving out the punishment in the SIZO or by the SIZO: I had been found guilty of the commission of a particularly grave crime – “state treason”. That is, I would have to be ready to be sent off to “the zone”. According to the stories of experienced zeks and lawyers I knew: nobody gets out of the zone before sitting out a year, irrespective of whether or not the term for conditional early release has come up. It is precisely for this reason that the KGB in tandem with the administration of the SIZO had held me in the jail for another two months. They would have held me there even longer, but my defenders started to get interested in the reasons for the delay with the send-off. The majority of the convicts in our country don’t have lawyers. And that’s why there’s nobody to get interested. And that’s why zeks sit without being moved from the SIZO to the zone sometimes for half a year, sometimes for a year… Then in the zone they might “sit through” a conditional early release above and beyond the term, not submitting the documents….In the strict-regime colony, to which they staged me, the processing began right in the quarantine barrack. The chief of the quarantine detachment warned that nobody had ever gotten conditional early release before having sat for at least one year in THEIR camp. So, old buddy, you’d better get used to just sitting quietly without making a fuss. Besides this, the detachment chief advised agreeing with the proposal to put on a red armband and join the ranks of the activists of the zone. (It should be noted that this was a “red”, or “trash” [all authority figures (e.g. the camp administration, police, etc.)—Trans.] zone; that is, the entire fullness of power was in the hands of the administration, while thieves’ rules were suppressed using both legal and illegal methods.)I refused the red armband and in such a manner distanced myself even more from conditional early release: by a long-standing tradition in the “red zone”, only activists had the right to claim conditional early release.With my two college degrees, twenty years of service as an officer and work as a journalist, I could have worked as a steward or a librarian. All the more so, given that at that moment there were even vacancies. But I became a joiner-carpenter in the furniture workshop at the promka – the industrial part of the zone. The work day actually began at 7:30 in the morning and ended around 18:00 in the evening. The process of fabricating furniture, as well as windows and doors, I learned from start to finish, that is from cutting planks out of logs with a gang saw all the way to loading the finished goods on a truck. Nevertheless, even conscientious labor on this sector did not guarantee a timely conditional early release.Something I quickly became convinced of. The term of conditional early release for me came on 25 December of the year 2002. By that time I had already done two thirds of my term. The application for conditional early release I wrote in advance, and they were supposed to examine it at the administrative commission of the colony. Before this, the bugor – the brigadier, or team foreman – reported to me that he had indicated my surname in lists for incentive for good work. On the day of the commission hearing, it turned out that my surname is not on either the lists of those to be incentivized, or on the lists of those being considered for conditional early release. The hearing itself both amused and upset me simultaneously. It happened like this. In the club of the colony on the stage sat the “boss” – the chief of the camp and his deputies – for the educative unit, housekeeping, operative work… Some lady from the administration read out a surname, the zek walked up to the rostrum and started to answer questions. The “boss” asked one convict why he walked so long to the stage. He replied that he had been sitting far away and had not heard his name. The “boss” said: “The commission adopts a decision to deny you conditional early release. Next time you’ll listen better…”I recall how the zeks would get ready for conditional early release, earning positive points, bending over backwards before the bugors, activists, detachment chief. They tried not to violate the regime even in the littlest things. They unquestioningly attached red armbands to themselves. But all they had to do was snap back in the wrong tone at an employee of the administration on the eve of the commission, and all was blown to hell. If the employee had it out for the zek, the zek could just forget about everything.Naturally, in such a situation, informancy flourished unbridled; indeed, this is what “red zones” were famous for in the first place. A whole herd of voyeurs enlivened my situation. They literally followed on my heels, crawled up with idiotic advice and questions, told me about how the administration could deprive me of conditional early release under any pretexts This method is called “sitting someone down on a nerve”. It can easily drive a nervous zek out of his mind. He might be rude to employees of the administration, end up in the penalty isolator – the ShIZO. And ShIZO means you can forget about UDO.The arsenal of ways to put pressure on a zek who has decided to “cast off” before the end of his term is so great and varied that seasoned convicts don’t even try to “hold on”. Besides this, among the so-called “black” zeks – that is those who do not recognize “red zones” and all the “trash games” – it is considered taboo (zapadlo) to even ask for conditional early release. In my time, one acquaintance from the barrack even intentionally got himself into the ShIZO a couple of times, so they wouldn’t force him out to freedom. This phenomenon is quite widespread. In this case, as a rule, there is half a year left before conditional early release. And you could do that much, as the zeks say, standing on one leg. And another thing: it is considered that a refusal of conditional early release is cool, an act of valor, however small, but nevertheless a victory for the convict over the rules and requirements of the administration. I ran into such sentiments as well: people despise the existing power so much that they find even the thought of accepting conditional early release from it disgusting, considering it something akin to an offer of crumbs as a show of false magnanimity.I will admit that these thoughts visited me as well. After all, a year before conditional early release I had categorically refused a pardon that president of the RF Putin had offered me. As the zeks would say, it’s zapadlo to take conditional early release from this person. But I and my lawyers also understood the consequences of my further lengthy sojourn in camp. Therefore it was decided to nevertheless attempt to get released.The next hearing of the commission was supposed to take place in the middle of January. Several days before the New Year and during the course of nearly a month after it so many events took place having to do with my conditional early release that even now, a year and a half later, I remember about them with the deepest repugnance. First, every day someone of the zeks would come up to me and talk about how it had been decided to kill me: “no person – no problem” [a famous quote by Josef Stalin—Trans.]. Supposedly, even a “torpedo” – a specially trained otmorozok [literally “unfrozen one”, a soulless psychopath who does anything without feeling remorse—Trans.] – had already been found. Second, I was put under blatantly unconcealed 24 surveillance: did I get into the lineup in time?, have I put on something excessive-not regulation? (and it was plenty cold in Ussuriysk!), do I haul logs well? (my radiculitis has 20 years of experience already…), maybe I’ve got something extraneous in my bedside table?… The “operative worker” (also known as the chekist or the kumanek) tried to convince me just about every day that a person not acknowledging his guilt isn’t even considered for conditional early release. (I had never admitted guilt – neither at the investigation, nor in two trials, nor after them…)CONTINUE READING PART 2 HERE….